In Paris there is an endless quest to find the perfect bistro or classic brasserie, but in Lyon there’s another B-word: Bouchon. These are warm, convivial places serving generous helpings of regional specialties like andouillete, salade lyonnaise (bacon is a main ingredient!), quenelles de brochet, and sabodet, typically washed down with a carafe of Beaujolais.
The thing about this type of food (and I say this as someone with a high capacity for butter, foie gras, and poitrine de porc) is that when it’s not done right it falls flat in your mouth and sinks like a brick in your belly.
Sadly this was the case at one classic address, Café Comptoir Abel. Pasty white sauce with the quenelles, a gloppy skin forming over my chicken with morels, a scrambled crème caramel: This was not a great first meal in the culinary capital of France. Blerg.
We found gastronomic redemption the next day, starting with the splendid market that runs along the Saône.
It was an astounding display of purple artichokes, asparagus thick and thin, fresh morels, early strawberries, cardoons, saucisson in every shape and size imaginable, freshwater fish, giant oysters, piles of cheeses, honeys and preserves, pure white nougat studded with all kinds of nuts, a guy scraping the crust from the bottom of the pan as he dished up paella to the masses, and more rotisserie chickens than I’ve ever seen in one place.
Lunch was had in the sun along the water.
But finding a bouchon that was open for dinner on Sunday? That was no picnic. Thank goodness for Le Bouchon des Filles.
The “filles” in question are a pair of women who at different times worked at Café des Federations, a Lyon institution, before deciding to do their own thing. I’m so glad they did.
An apéro was in order and savory pastry palmiers arrived immediately, a little nibble while we sipped and contemplated the menu and wine list. A few minutes later came a bread basket and a dish of salty smoked trout spread, and not long after that two more dishes were added to the table: a piquant celery root remoulade and chilled lentils. This was the “defilé des saladiers,” the parade of starters that every table was served.
We had only to choose our mains. Turned off of quenelles after the previous night’s meal, we decided on the onglet de boeuf with peppery sauce poivrade and a croustille de boudin aux pommes (blood pudding with apples) with herb salad. The steak was delicious, and so was the gratin of macaroni that accompanied it. But the “croustille” was really memorable: Boudin aux pommes is a regional dish, and here it was dressed up just a bit with a crisp, thin pastry crust. The black boudin was itself delicious (if you like that kind of thing, and I certainly do) The mound of parsley, tarragon, and chervil on top, lightly dressed and well seasoned, was as flavorful as it was green.
St. Marcellin is the classic cheese of Lyon, served in every Bouchon, apparently, except the Bouchon des Filles, who on this night offered a perfectly ripe piece of Brillat-Savarin. You will not hear me complain about this, ever.
And yes, we had dessert: A frozen soufflé flavored with Chartreuse for me and strawberry sorbet for the lightweight across the table.
All of that food — the little treats, the salads, the main courses, cheese and dessert — cost 25€ per person.
We left for Paris the next morning, vowing restraint and fruits and vegetables for a few days. And vowing to go back to Lyon soon.
Bouchon des Filles 20 rue Sergent Blandan, Lyon 69001, +33 (0)4 78 30 40 44